Nan Whaley is a Dayton City Commissioner and endorsed by the Democratic Party, who says the economy will be her focus if she's elected mayor. Whaley says she has plans to bring jobs through leveraging the city's assets and will restore blighted neighborhoods by tearing down unlivable properties. Whaley also says a welcoming, vibrant community will attract people here. Whaley sat down in an interview with Emily McCord April 18, 2013 ahead of the Mayoral Primary May 7th, where she faces incumbent Gary Leitzell and Democrat A.J. Wagner.
Emily McCord: What distinguishes you from the other mayoral candidates when it comes to running this race?
Nan Whaley: Well, I mean I think I have both the experience and an ability to look into Dayton's future. I really believe that Dayton's best days are ahead of it if we have the right kind of leadership in the mayor's position. And also, you know, I'm really excited about this race. I think we have a lot of great things to talk about Dayton now and Dayton in the future, and we have a lot of opportunities. So, it's just been a great opportunity to talk to folks in Dayton about their city.
EM: How do you define the role as mayor?
NW: If I'm elected mayor, I will be a full time mayor. I think that the city deserves that. It deserves someone that really uses that position to really advocate for both the city and the region and make sure that we have a place at the table both statewide and nationally. So, that's the role I would definitely carve out and then also, you know, making sure that citizens needs are heard and that they feel like they have a voice and a place into the mayor's office.
EM: So, but the mayor's position is a part time job by definition as I understand it?
NW: It's considered part-time, but so is the commission, frankly, and I've treated it pretty much as a full time job as well, and so I think, you know, for me I really love public service and love really getting to talk to people and there’s a lot of work to in Dayton and so that's what I would commit to do.
EM: How would your mayor tenure compare to what's happening now under Mayor Gary Leitzell? How would you make it different?
NW: Well, I have really strong relationships with the city commission and I'm proud that the other three commissioners have all endorsed me for this position. You know, I don't do anything alone and I know that it's about collaborations and partnerships. So, I think we really work hard to make sure that we use each person's assets and relationships with other folks to really move the city forward. That's one way and then also, I think we need to have a vision and a plan that moves Dayton forward. So we've done with the "Roadmap for Dayton's Future". We've put that on our website at nanwhaley.com, really focusing in on our asset based development with job creation and making sure we create jobs. We know that when people have jobs a lot of other problems go away. They can get housing easily. They can take care of their kids. They pay attention to the education of their children. We really think that jobs is the key for Dayton's future, and then also making sure that our neighborhoods, a focus on neighborhoods, especially with blight. You know, I've been a leader in making sure that Dayton gets a good amount of money from both the state and federal government on taking down some extreme blight in our community.
EM: You're also running against a Democrat, AJ Wagner, what would distinguish you between the two Democrats in this race?
NW: Well, number one I am endorsed by the Democratic party and so I'm proud of the support I've had, not only from the Democrats locally but also state wide, like Senator Sherrod Brown, and the relationships I have with the Democratic party, I think, are strong. You know, I think AJ and I agree on a lot of issues but the big difference is that you know I'm really positioning the discussion to be about the future of the city and really setting a vision about the future. I think that's really the big difference.
EM: If you had to pinpoint one thing that you think is the biggest problem that Dayton faces in its future, what would be and how do you plan to address it?
NW: I think our biggest issue is growing our economy and that requires the city to be a leader but also to be a player in a regional context. It's not just the city of Dayton, and I think our region has seen a pretty large hit when it comes to the manufacturing hit we took during the Great Recession. But with that comes great opportunity. So we have opportunities to really grow manufacturing. We're seeing some great announcements in the city, for example, on sites we have been working on for decades to be located. For example, the PECO site [Process Equipment Co.] that's working on McCall Street where a company is coming in and wants to do advanced manufacturing in the heart of west Dayton because that site fits in with logistics and location of that site. So, we have great opportunities there but that's our greatest challenge as well.
EM: And what about neighborhoods? What's your plan for restoring them?
NW: Yeah, we've unveiled a neighborhood plan. That's something I've been working a lot as city commissioner. And really, we've developed a strategy called the Green and Gold strategy, which I'm really proud of. And it's basically talking how we have a housing stock that's around for 250,000 people when the height of Dayton's population was that in 1972. And some of those properties aren't viable and they're not really livable. So we have to get those properties down because it's really hurting the person that's living next door. That person living next door is paying their taxes, living next to that blight every day, has to worry about it being safe or not safe. And we have to get those properties down. So, that’s been a big focal point of my commission tenure. I'm really proud of the work we've done from getting money from "Move Ohio Forward" in the state or if it's federal dollars that we've advocated from our federal delegation. Congressman Turner just cosponsored a bill that would allow for some of the mediation money that has not been spent in the state to be moved onto this blighted properties. But we have to to know we need help and we can't do that alone and so we really need someone in the mayor's seat that's advocating and using the bully pulpit and using relationships with state and federal folks to get those dollars. Then we also have to work in our neighborhoods to have conversations about what it means to be less dense. And there's great opportunities with that, too because, quite frankly, some of the houses that were put in the boom of the '50s and '60s of Dayton were built a little too close and weren't really the best design. So, I think we have a great opportunity to redesign our neighborhoods. We've tried some of that in some of our neighborhoods and I think that's gone pretty well. And then finally, I think we need to recognize that we have 65 unique neighborhoods in the city of Dayton and they have different values and different ways they want to live. And so it's really important that the city listen to what the neighborhood wants and try to work on what's realistic for the neighborhood to do to move forward. I think that's really, really a key point. There's not a one size fits all answer for our neighborhoods in the city of Dayton.
EM: Because you've been serving on the Dayton commission, you began in 2005, what could the city do better?
NW: I mean I think it's really key for the city to focus in on this neighborhoods piece. It takes a lot of work and through the previous eight years we've really been working through a recession. And so what happens now is there's great opportunity for growth and that's really fun and exciting. I can tell it's a different conversation than we were having even two or three years ago. So, there's great opportunities for us to really talk about growth and that's an exciting opportunity, not only for greater downtown, but for the whole city as a whole.
EM: One thing that's come up during this mayor's race, Mayor Leitzell had issued a challenge to all the mayoral candidates to keep campaign spending under $10,000 as a cap. Both you and A.J. Wagner decided not to take him up on that. Why is that?
NW: Well, I mean, I think, number one, he's the sitting mayor so it's an advantage to challenge a cap because he does get a lot more media play and a lot more attention. When there's an issue they go to the mayor and he can choose to take that media or not take that media. So number one, it's a little self-serving to issue a cap as the sitting mayor. And secondly, you know, more importantly, I think when we're deciding to run this race and how we wanted to tell the citizens of Dayton about the future of Dayton. We believe Dayton is a first class city and it needs a first class race, and so that's going to take more than $10,000 to communicate with the citizens of Dayton about the future. And it's an important position. It's an important position not only for the city but for the region as a whole and so, you know, to have arbitrary amount declared by one of the candidates, I just don't think is something that is really fair.
EM: One of the other controversies that came up was a poll that was done on your behalf that angered the other candidates because they say it painted misleading information in the poll. What's the story there?
NW: You know, I've been doing campaigns for years and we do in every campaign I've been on, we've always tested everyone's positives and negatives to be prepared. And our poll did the same thing. It tested my negatives as a candidate as well. You do that to be prepared in case someone does attack you so you know what is effective and what's not. It was a straight poll that polling people do. You know, we've run a really positive campaign. It's been great. We've been telling people about the future of the city and telling them about what my vision is.
EM: What can you do as Dayton mayor to make the streets safer?
NW: That's a great question, Emily. I think there's a lot of leadership that could be done from the mayor's position that's not being done right now. If I were elected I'd be a leader with the Mayor's Against Illegal Guns, which over 900 city mayors across the country are a part of. I'd fight for background checks for everyone. And we need to make sure that, you know, it's an issue of gun violence in our community and that that's not acceptable. And the work the Commissioner Williams is doing with the citizens' initiative to reduce gun violence is a great conversation we're having that builds trust between the police and the citizens, but we also need to make sure we're advocating for federal action on this issue.
EM: We talked a little bit about jobs earlier, but I want to talk about small business in Dayton. What is hampering small business the most, and what are your plans for it?
NW: So, on my jobs plan that I have, we talk about having an entrepreneur's council to make sure that small business really has an ear into the mayor's office. I think we hear about this a lot in the city. Small business is much different than someone who has four or five hundred jobs. And so when I'm thinking of small business in the city I'm thinking of, like, two or three folks that are trying to get started either with a test bed of technology or retail space. So, we've had some great success his past year. Actually, in the greater downtown area, we've actually seen retail space be rented at a greater rate than we've seen my entire tenure. So, I think that we're doing some great work, from the pop-up shops that the young professionals are doing and activated spaces. Those places have stayed on for years now, and so there's great positiveness there. But I think there's still more we can do, whether it's paying attention to how the building code is served and having…and just really making sure that small business knows there's an advocate for them in the mayor's seat.
EM: You mentioned having a vision for Dayton. Tell me about that.
Sure, you know, we are I think as a campaign and a team, we're really excited about the plan we put together on the "Roadmap for Dayton's Future". And we unveiled the first piece in January and it was the jobs plan. It's about six pages, so it'd take the whole time to talk about it here but it really fits around the eight assets of the city, from leveraging Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to the Greater Downtown plan, to our water, our fantastic water, and using that as a driver for economic viability and bringing companies here. So, those pieces, the health and education campuses, I could name them all but they're all on that site, are really key, we think, on developing and creating jobs in our community. And then we also recognize that we have to do work on our neighborhoods, and so we have the "Neighborhood Plan" making sure that safety is top priority, protecting our excellent city services but then also making sure that we have conversations that both the city and the neighborhoods are engaged in. And the final plan we'll be announcing next week is called, what I call, the vibrancy plan. It's really about leadership and being an open and progressive community. I think at Dayton's core and how we're going to grow is that we have to be open. And so, the stuff that we've done from "Welcome Dayton-an Immigrant Friendly Plan" to being really a leader to on LGBT issues in the city and really saying to this community 'if you want to live in Dayton, you're welcome here and we're happy to have you and we want you to be part of this community', I think is a really key point to us. It's who we are at our core, I believe, and it's what we will use to grow.